September 25, 2017
SEOUL, South Korea — Even though President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation imposing strict new restrictions on visitors from North Korea and several other nations, the move is largely symbolic for the North because not many people from the country visit the United States.
The North Korean government, led by dictator Kim Jong Un, disallows most of its 24 million people to travel to foreign countries including the United States, except in special cases like jobs that bring in foreign currency or participation in sporting events. North Korea has tens of thousands of such workers abroad, but none are believed to be in the United States.
Reports say there is a dwindling number of North Koreans visiting the United States amid the standoff over the North's nuclear and missile programs.
According a report last month by the Voice of America broadcaster, the United States issued 100 visas to North Koreans last year. VOA, citing an analysis of visa records, said 52 of them were business or tourist visas while the rest were diplomats. From March to June this year, the U.S. issued 18 visas to North Koreans, according to the report.
The figures were a sharp decrease from the period of 1997-2001, when more than 1,200 North Koreans acquired business or tourist visas each year, the VOA report said.
The broadcaster said there's no record of the whereabouts or activities in the United States of those on business or tourism visas. But there are some North Korean government officials based in the North's diplomatic mission to the United Nations in New York.
In addition to North Korea, Trump's presidential proclamation, signed Sunday, places indefinite restrictions on citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. The U.S. will also bar the entry of certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate families. The changes will take effect Oct. 18.
But its impact on North Korea is expected to be minimal.
"It's a symbolic measure. ... North Korea won't probably make any response," said analyst Hong Min at Seoul's Korea Institute for National Unification.
The latest U.S. moves against North Korea, including the suspensions of immigrant and non-immigrant visas of North Koreans, have come amid an escalating war of words between Trump and Kim. Last week, Kim called Trump a "mentally deranged U.S. dotard" in response to Trump's threats to "totally destroy" the North. Trump later said Kim is "obviously a madman who doesn't mind starving or killing his people."
The U.S. ban also came on the same day as Trump's temporary ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries was set to expire 90 days after it went into effect. The inclusion of Venezuela and North Korea appeared to be an attempt to block challenges from advocacy groups and others who have called the restrictions a ban on Muslims.
North Korea last month described the outgoing ban as a measure that revealed "American ferocity, lack of judgment and extreme recklessness." But as of Monday afternoon, the country's state media hadn't made any comments on the new ban.
The United States and North Korea don't have diplomatic relations because they remain in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty. Starting Sept. 1, the Trump administration has barred Americans from traveling to the North, after a U.S. student was sent home in a coma and later died after more than a year in detention in the North.